FaithWorld

from Breakingviews:

Silicon Valley’s undeserved moral exceptionalism

By Rob Cox

This essay appears in the March 19 edition of Newsweek. The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Silicon Valley likes to think of itself as morally exceptional. When Google went public in 2004, the Internet search company’s wunderkind founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, penned a letter to prospective shareholders that has become the Internet industry’s version of the Magna Carta. In it, they pledged that Google was “not a conventional company” but one focused on “making the world a better place.” Their manifesto followed a venerable tradition in Silicon Valley (meaning the swath of technology and Internet companies based in the cities and towns between San Francisco and San Jose). A decade earlier Apple co-founder Steve Jobs insisted that “being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me … Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful … that’s what matters to me.”

The newest inductees to the Silicon Valley pantheon have continued to think very well of themselves and their motives. Mark Pincus, who introduced Farmville and Words With Friends to create pleasant online distractions, embraced comparable sentiments when taking Zynga public last year: “Games should do good. We want to help the world while doing our day jobs.” In the prospectus for what could be a record $10 billion initial public offering, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg promises that a similar philosophy will guide the social network. “Simply put: we don’t build services to make money; we make money to build better services. And we think this is a good way to build something. These days I think more and more people want to use services from companies that believe in something beyond simply maximizing profits.”

After the financial crisis and the great Wall Street swindles of the past few years, this all sounds refreshing. Toiling away in places with bucolic names like Sunnyvale and Mountain View, entrepreneurs create products intended to improve mankind and make the world a better place. The narrative offers an antidote to tales of bailed-out bankers collecting undeserved bonuses and job-crushing private-equity barons paying lower tax rates than their secretaries. But wishing to hold the moral high ground does not make it so - whether in industry, politics, or religion.

Though Silicon Valley’s newest billionaires may anoint themselves the saints of American capitalism, they’re beginning to resemble something else entirely: robber barons. Behind the hoodies and flip-flops lurk businesspeople as rapacious as the black-suited and top-hatted industrialists of the late 19th century. Like their predecessors in railroads, steel, banking, and oil a century ago, Silicon Valley’s new entrepreneurs are harnessing technology to make the world more efficient. But along the way, that process is bringing great economic and labor dislocation, as well as an unequal share of the spoils. Just last week, the Justice Department warned Apple that it planned to sue the company along with several U.S. publishers for colluding to raise the price of electronic books - monopolistic behavior that would have made John Rockefeller proud.

Saudi insists protests not Islamic, Facebook group calls for demos

saudi protest

(Saudi Shi'ites protest for the release of prisoners they say are being held without trial, March 3, 2011/Zaki Ghawas )

Saudi Arabia’s ruling family has mobilised the power of its conservative religious establishment to prevent a wave of uprisings against Arab autocrats from roaring into its kingdom, home to more than a fifth of the world’s known oil reserves. Whether these traditional tactics will work with a young population that grew up in the information revolution age, with the ability to use the internet to organise and spread awareness of ideas of universal rights to political participation, is still to be tested.

The day all eyes are fixed on is Friday. More than 32,000 people have backed a call on Facebook to hold two demonstrations this month, the first on March 11 and then March 20. The theme running through comments from princes, clerics and newspaper editorialists is that protests in the key U.S.-allied state are not Islamic, the subject of a fatwa issued by the Council of Senior Clerics this week.

Banned Islamists say time for change in Morocco

mosque morocco

(A mosque in Ksar el Kebir February 5, 2008/Rafael Marchante)

The banned Islamist group Justice and Charity, believed to be Morocco’s biggest opposition force, has said “autocracy” will be swept away unless the country pursues deep democratic reform.

The group of Sufi inspiration is believed to have 200,000 members, most of whom are university students, and is active mainly in the poor districts of some cities. Banned from politics, its avowed aim is to achieve a peaceful transition to a pluralist political system inspired by Islam.

In a statement posted on its website late on Sunday, Justice and Charity said the unrest in Egypt and Tunisia left “no place today for distortions … and empty, false promises… The gap between the ruler and the ruled has widened and confidence is lost … The solution is either a deep and urgent democratic reform that ends autocracy and responds to the needs and demands of the people, or the people take the initiative and (it) erupt peacefully … to sweep autocracy away.”

Banned Paris “sausage and wine” party goes ahead at Arc de Triomphe

aperogeant1 (Photo: Protesters at the Arc de Triomphe, 18 June 2010/Benoit Tessier)

A “sausage and wine” party went ahead in Paris despite a police ban but was staged near the Arc de Triomphe instead of in a neighbourhood with many Muslim residents as originally planned.  Friday’s event had been criticised as highly provocative because it was planned for the day of weekly Muslim prayers and the World Cup soccer match between England and Algeria, a former French colony that is majority Muslim.

The mayor of Paris had said the event was “clearly inspired by extreme right-wing movements.” Paris police banned the party in the multiethnic Goutte d’Or neighbourhood because it risked sparking disturbances. The French daily Le Parisien estimated that 600 to 800 people gathered on the Champs Elysées near the Arc de Triomphe to eat pork sausages and drink wine at what organisers called a “giant cocktail party.”

The event was announced on Facebook late last month and drew criticism from politicians and civic groups because the Facebook page contained thinly veiled anti-Muslim slogans.  A similar party planned for a largely Muslim area of Lyon in eastern France was cancelled after pressure from the police, the organiser said on the event’s Facebook page.

Paris bans open-air “sausage & wine party” over Muslim concerns

sausageA giant “sausage and wine” party planned later this week in a Paris neighbourhood with many Muslim residents risks sparking disturbances and will therefore be banned, police in the French capital announced on Tuesday.

The event, announced on the social networking site Facebook late last month (see page here in French), had drawn growing criticism from politicians and civic groups in recent days as its page containing barely disguised anti-Muslim slogans attracted over 7,000 members. (Photo: French sausages on display at the Paris International Farm Show, February 28, 2004/Charles Platiau)

The event, called an “apéro géant” (giant cocktail party), was due on Friday.  The main organiser, Sylvie François, wrote that she wanted the event to be “a joyous protest” against the closing down of roads in the Goutte d’Or neighbourhood every Friday by Muslims praying in the street outside the overcrowded mosque there. The Facebook page also appeared to signal the party’s thrust with appeals to “native Parisians” and complaints about “the resolute foes of our local wines and pork products.”

Q+A – What’s next in Malaysia’s “Allah” row?

allah facebook

Facebook group protesting Allah ruling, 5 Jan 2010/Bazuki Muhammad

Malaysia’s government has filed for a stay of execution pending its appeal of a court ruling allowing a Malay-language Catholic paper to describe the Christian God as “Allah”, amid growing Islamic anger in the country. We reported on the dispute here yesterday, including how it has spilled over into Facebook.

What lies ahead in this row threatening to increase religious tensions in the mainly Muslim but multi-racial Southeast Asian country?

Our Q+A asks why this is arousing so much anger, what happens next, whether there will be political fallout from the dispute and whether religious tensions present an important threat to religious, political and economic interests in Malaysia.

Malaysia’s “Allah” row spills over into Facebook

allah herald

The word "Allah" in a Malay-language Catholic newspaper, 29 Dec 2009/Bazuki Muhammad

More than 43,000 Malaysians have protested online over a court ruling allowing a Malay-language Catholic paper to use the word “Allah” for “God,” signaling growing Islamic anger in this mostly Muslim Southeast Asian country.

A group page on social networking site Facebook was drawing 1,500 new supporters an hour on Monday as last week’s court ruling split political parties and even families.  Among those who signed up for the protest were Deputy Trade Minister Mukhriz Mahathir, the son of Malaysia’s longest serving prime minister, Mahathir Mohamed, while Mahathir’s daughter Marina called critics of the court decision “idiots” in her blog.

Pope on Facebook in attempt to woo young believers

pope-facebookl

You won’t get an email saying Pope Benedict added you as a friend and you can’t “poke” him or write on his wall, but the Vatican is still keen to use the networking site Facebook to woo young people back to church.

A new Vatican website, www.pope2you.net, has gone live, offering an application called “The pope meets you on Facebook,” and another allowing the faithful to see the Pope’s speeches and messages on their iPhones or iPods.

Phil Pullella looks at the Vatican’s latest bid to preach the gospel with new technologies. Read the full story here.

Pope’s secretary victim of Facebook hoax

It had to happen sooner or later.

Someone pretending to be Pope Benedict’s personal secretary Monsignor Georg Gänswein, a German priest whose good looks have made him a celebrity in his own right, has set up a false Facebook account in his name. Several journalists in Rome have received an invitation from someone claiming to be him and asking them to be his Facebook friend.

But the journalists noted something strange in the dialogue with the purported monsignor. He sprinkles his Italian with German words like gut (good)  — something the real one doesn’t  do since he speaks perfect Italian. The bogus monsignor also posted a video clip of the real Gänswein walking with the pope during the Benedict’s summer holidays last year in the northern Italian mountains. The video — shot by Vatican television — is readily available. (Photo: Monsignor Georg Gänswein and Pope Benedict at the Vatican, 7 June 2006/Max Rossi)

But the real Gänswein, dubbed “gorgeous George,” doesn’t really need Facebook to make friends. There already are at least four Facebook fan clubs started by swooning admirers. One of the fan clubs uses an Italian play on words that can mean both that he should leave the priesthood or take off his priestly clothes.